S. (Solomon) Schechter.

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Rabbis phrase it, "the unending variations of mind
and the difference of facial expression" registering
our emotions, that called forth the admiration of
the Rabbis and caused the institution of the blessing.

But nowhere is the force of this mystery more
deeply felt than in addressing an audience recruited
from the Jewish community of this great city of
New York. Like the first man (Adam) in the fable,
whose clay (constituting his body) was gathered from
the four corners of the earth, this community is made
up of the elements drawn from all parts of our globe.
But while the miscellaneous factor in the creation of
the race aimed, as it was fully explained, at making
man a citizen of the world, the same process has had
the very opposite effect with our community. Each
train of arriving immigrants has brought its own
idiosyncrasies and peculiarities, its own ritual and
ceremonies, and its own dogmas and dogmatisms, all
of which are struggling for existence and perpetuation,
thus converting the New World into a multitude of
petty Old Worlds. My stay in this country is not of
sufficiently long duration to justify any authoritative
statement on my part, but even so far as my short
experience goes I can safely say that New York alone
could furnish us with an epitome of all the Judaisms
or Richtungen scattered all over the world, ranging
from the precisionism and mysticism of the Far East
to the advanced radicalism of the Far West, in addi-
tion to the shadowy no-Judaisms hovering on the

Such a community is indeed a mystery. And this
mystery has become perplexing; for it is amidst all


these Judaisms and no- Judaisms that my colleagues
and myself are called to create a theological centre
which should be all things to all men, reconciling all
parties, and appealing to all sections of the community.
If I understand correctly the intention of those who
honored me with their call, and if I interpret my
own feelings aright, this school should never become
partisan ground or a hotbed of polemics, making
"confusion worse confounded." The name of the
Holy One, blessed be He, is Peace, and the place
erected to His name, and to the cultivation of His
Torah, should, to use the figurative language of the
Rabbis, be the spot on the horizon "where heaven
and earth kiss each other;" while those, who study
there should in some way participate in, and, as it
were, anticipate the mission of Elijah, that was to
consist not only in solving the difficulties of the
Torah, and removing doubt, but also in bringing
back the forcibly estranged, arbitrating between
conflicting opinions, and giving peace to the world.

Divine, however, as the work may be and it
could certainly not be accomplished without sup-
port from heaven it is not entirely superhuman, for
the creation of which I have just spoken is not a
Creatio ex nihilo. The foundations are laid and the
materials are given.

I am thinking, in the first instance, of the sainted
Doctor Sabato Morais, the finest specimen of a
Jewish martyr that is, one who lived, not only
died, as a martyr whose very appearance was an
inspiration, and whose simplest utterance was a


stimulus to faith in God and His Torah. His name
will always be remembered for good as the founder
of the Jewish Theological Seminary. For this insti-
tution he lived and labored the last eleven years of
his life, during which he acted as President of the
Faculty, in which his spirit will always remain an
active and living force; the Reverend Doctor Alex-
ander Kohut, the great Jewish scholar and author
of the monumental work Aruch Completum, the
greatest and finest specimen of Hebrew learning
ever produced by any Jew on this continent, who
acted for the last years of his life as Professor of
Midrash and Talmudic Methodology, and even
when death was already overshadowing him spared
himself not, and imparted instruction to the students
of the Seminary. I am further thinking of the
Directors of this institution. The modesty of these
Princes in Israel, which shrinks back from all pub-
licity and adheres conscientiously to the great maxim
that virtue is and must remain its own reward,
forbids me to be explicit. But we may mention here
the names of those departed: Mr. Joseph Blumen-
thal, the President of the old Board of Trustees, to
whose signal devotion this institution owes to a
considerable extent its continued existence; Mr.
Leonard Lewisohn, a devoted Jew, one of our greatest
philanthropists, whose benevolence extended to two
hemispheres, and who was one of the first founders
of the reconstructed Seminary; Doctor Aaron Frie-
denwald, a scholar and a gentleman, who held the
office of Director, both in the old and in the newly


constituted Board, and whose interest in the insti-
tution only ceased with life itself. With the Son of
Sirach we should say:

"For a truth these were godly men,
And their hope shall not perish;
With their seed goodness remains sure,
And their inheritance unto children's children;
Their memory standeth forth forever
And their righteousness shall not be forgotten."

With such models of energy and conviction, of
activity and saintliness, the Seminary should not be
at a loss to continue the work which these great
souls have prepared and ripened.

It should, however, be pointed out that the
directors of the reconstructed Seminary have also
given us some excellent hints as to the nature and
character of the work before us. Their words are:

"The Jewish Theological Seminary of America was
incorporated by a law of the State of New York, ap-
proved February 20, 1902, for the perpetuation of the
tenets of the Jewish religion, the cultivation of Hebrew
literature, the pursuit of Biblical and archaeological
research, the advancement of Jewish scholarship, the
establishment of a library and for the education and
training of Jewish rabbis and teachers."

These words are taken from the Charter, forming
the constitution of the Seminary, but, like all consti-
tutions, this also may profitably be submitted to the
process of interpretation and expansion. This
method we call Midrash. To this Midrash the rest
of my address will be largely devoted.

Put into somewhat less technical, or rather less
legal terms, the ideals at which the Directors of this


institution aim are the promotion of Jewish learning
and the training for the Jewish ministry. By learn-
ing or scholarship we understand a thorough and
accurate knowledge of Jewish literature, or at least
of parts of it. The duty of accuracy, even in the most
minute details of a subject, cannot be shirked.
"Through my intercourse with great men," says
Humboldt in his Cosmos, "I early arrived at the con-
viction that without a serious attention to details
all generalizations and theories of the universe are
mere phantasms." I know that the acquiring of
details is a very tiresome and wearisome affair, and
may well be described in the language of the old
Rabbis: "The part of wisdom learned under wrath."
But, unfortunately, there is no "snapshot" process
for acquiring learning. It has its methods and laws,
as ancient as time itself, and these none can evade or
escape. "If a man will tell thee," the old saying was,
"I have found Wisdom, but labored not (for it),
believe him not." The probability is that he found
nothing worth having.

It is true that occasionally we speak of a "Re-
public of Letters," a term which may be interpreted
to imply that a certain freedom of treatment is
granted to genius. Apart, however, from the fact
that we are not all Shakespeares or Goethes, or even
Walt Whitmans, it should be remembered that
Republicanism does not mean anarchy. Bad gram-
mar, faulty construction, wrong quotations and mis-
translations mean with the student in the domain
of literature what lawlessness and anarchy mean to
the citizen in common life. And much as we may
differ as to the eccentricities of a Walt Whitman,


I am sure that we will all agree that ignorance of
the language of the sacred literature of Israel in
persons undertaking to teach Judaism has by no
means any claim upon our forbearance as the vagary
of genius, and has to be opposed as objectionable
and pernicious.

Not less objectionable than actual ignorance is
artificial ignorance. By this I understand that
peculiar attitude of mind which, cognizant of the
fact that there were such things as the eighteenth
century and nineteenth century, with their various
movements and revolutions in all departments of
human thought, somehow manages to reduce them
to a blank, as if they had not been. My friends, they
have been! There has been such a thing as a ration-
alistic school, though not all its members have been
rational. There has been such a thing as a critical
school, though not all its adherents have been real
critics. Arianism of the vulgar sort, and Marcion-
ism of the nineteenth century type, have had their
share in this work. There has been such a thing as
an historical school, although not all those who were
of it interpreted history in the right way. All these
movements are solemn facts, and they can as little
be argued away by mere silence as pain and suffering
can be removed from the world by the methods of
Christian Science.

Mark, too, that there is no intellectual wave that
breaks upon our mental horizon, which, disastrous as
it may appear to us, will not have some beneficial
effect in the end. It may wreak desolation when it
comes; it may leave the beach strewn with loathsome
monsters when it recedes, but at the same time it will


deposit a residuum of fresh matter, often fruitful
and fructifying. To give one instance from our own
history, I will only recall to your minds the Karaitic
Schism. Vile and violent were its attacks upon the
tradition of the Fathers, and the breach is not healed
to this very day, but it had also the blessed effect of
giving a wholesome impetus to the study of the Bible,
which resulted in producing a school of Grammarians
and Exegetes, and perhaps also of Massorites, such
as Judaism had never seen before.

Thus these movements may all contain grains and
germs of truth, or at least may provide the nidus for
the further development of truth, and with all this the
student must be made acquainted. What they have
to offer may not always be pleasant to hear, but this
must be accepted as a judgment of God, passed upon
us for allowing our inheritance especially the Bible
to be turned over to strangers. At the same time
the follies and extravagances, occasionally also the
ineffable ignorance displayed by some of the leaders
of these movements should also be exposed, for the
demand they make for blind faith in the hypotheses
they advance is even more exacting than that made
by the old orthodoxies, and young men should be
warned against their pretensions. "Even the youngest
amongst us may sometimes err," was the answer of a
master of Trinity College, Cambridge, to a forward
youth, and similarly I venture to express the pos-
sibility that even the "newest" among us may some-
times go wrong.

The crown and climax of all learning is research.
The object of this searching is truth that truth


which gives unity to history and harmony to the
phenomena of nature, and brings order into a universe
in which the naked eye perceives only strife and chance.
But while in search of this truth, of which man is
hardly permitted more than a faint glimpse, the
student not only re-examines the old sources, but is
on the constant lookout for fresh material and new
fields of exploration. These enable him to supply
a link here and to fill out a gap there, thus contrib-
uting his humble share to the sum total of truth,
which by the grace of God, is in a process of con-
stant self -revelation.

I may, perhaps, point out in passing, as I did on
a somewhat similar occasion, "that this passionate
devotion to the study of ancient MSS., which you
may possibly have observed in some students, has
not its source in mere antiquarianism or love of
curios. The famous R. Nissim Gaon, the correspond-
ent of R. Sherira and R. Hai Gaon, the author of the
Maf teach, says, in the introduction to his work:
"And I entreat everybody who will profit by the
study of this book to pray to God for me and to
cause me to find mercy whether I am alive or dead."
Nowadays we are not always in a praying mood.
With Hegel, some of us believe that thinking is also
praying. But the sensation we experience in our
work is not unlike that which should accompany our
devotions. Every discovery of an ancient document
giving evidence of a bygone world is, if undertaken in
the right spirit that is, for the honor of God and
the truth and not for the glory of self an act of
resurrection in miniature. How the past suddenly


rushes in upon you with all its joys and woes! And
there is a spark of a human soul like yours come to
light again after a disappearance of centuries, crying
for sympathy and mercy, even as R. Nissim did.
You dare not neglect the appeal and slay this soul
again. Unless you choose to become another Cain
you must be the keeper of your brother and give
him a fair hearing. You pray with him if he hap-
pens to be a liturgist; you grieve with him if the
impress left by him in your mind is that of suffer-
ing; you fight for him if his voice is that of ardent
partisanship, and you even doubt with him if the
garb in which he makes his appearance is that of
an honest skeptic "Souls can only be kissed through
the medium of sympathy."

But it is with truth as it is with other ideals and
sacred possessions of man. "Every generation," the
ancient Rabbis say, "which did not live to see the
rebuilding of the Holy Temple must consider itself
as if it had witnessed its destruction." Similarly we
may say that every age which has not made some
essential contribution to the erection of the Temple
of Truth and real Wissenschaft is bound to look upon
itself as if it had been instrumental in its demolition.
For it is these fresh contributions and the opening of
new sources, with the new currents they create, that
keep the intellectual and the spiritual atmosphere in
motion and impart to it life and vigor. But when,
through mental inertia and moral sloth, these fresh
sources are allowed to dry, stagnation and decay are
sure to set in. The same things happen which came'
to pass when Israel's sanctuary was consumed in fire.


Said R. Phineas ben Yair: "Since the day on which
the Holy Temple was destroyed, the socii, Q^~cn
sons of freedom, lie under the cloud of shame, and
their heads are covered (in mourning) ; men of (real)
deeds are neglected, while the 'men of elbow' and the
'masters of the tongue' gain strength."

I have thus far spoken of the Seminary as a place
of learning. We must now proceed to consider it in
its particular aspect as a training school for the Jewish
ministry. Now, we all agree that the office of a Jew-
ish minister is to teach Judaism; he should accordingly
receive such a training as to enable him to say:
"Judaeici nihil a me alienum puto" "I regard nothing
Jewish as foreign to me." He should know every-
thing Jewish Bible, Talmud, Midrash, Liturgy,
Jewish ethics and Jewish philosophy; Jewish history
and Jewish mysticism, and even Jewish folklore.
None of these subjects, with its various ramifica-
tions, should be entirely strange to him.

Remember, my friends, that there is no waste in
the world of thought. Every good action, the mystics
say, creates an angel; and every real thought/it may
be said, creates even something better; it creates
men and women. In spite of all our "modernity,"
most of our sentiments are "nothing else but organized
traditions; our thoughts nothing else but reminis-
censes, conscious and unconscious," while in our
actions we are largely executive officers, carrying
out the ordinances passed by a wise legislation of
many years ago. We dare not neglect any part of
this great intellectual bequest but at a serious
risk and peril to ourselves. And the risk is the greater


in Jewish literature a literature pregnant with
"thoughts that breathe and words that burn,"
whose very pseudography became the sacred books
of other nations, whose most homely metaphors
were converted from literature into dogma. Nay, the
very misunderstanding and misinterpretation of its
terminology have given rise to a multitude of sects
and orthodoxies and heresies still dividing humanity.

It is with the purpose of avoiding this risk that
we my colleagues and I tried to draw up the
curriculum of studies for the classes, in such a way
as to include in it almost every branch of Jewish
literature. We cannot, naturally, hope to carry the
student through all these vast fields of learning at
the cultivation of which humanity has now worked
for nearly four thousand years. But this fact must
not prevent us from making the attempt to bring
the students on terms of acquaintance at least with
all those manifestations of Jewish life and Jewish
thought which may prove useful to them as future
ministers, and suggestive and stimulating to them
as prospective scholars.

It is hardly necessary to remark that the Jewish
ministry and Jewish scholarship are not irreconcil-
able. The usefulness of a minister does not increase
in an inverse ratio to his knowledge as little as bad
grammar is specially conducive to morality and
holiness. Zunz's motto was, "Real knowledge creates
action" (thatenerzeugen d) , and the existence of such
men as R. Saadya Gaon and R. Hai Gaon, Maimon-
ides, and Nachmanides, R. Joseph Caro and R. Isaac
Abarbanel, Samson Raphael Hirsch and Abraham


Geiger, and an innumerable host of other spiritual
kings in Israel, all ' 'mighty in the battles of the
Torah," and voluminous authors, and at the same
time living among their people and for their people
and influencing contemporaries, and still at this very
moment swaying the actions and opinions of men
all these bear ample testimony to the truth of Zunz's
maxim. No, ignorance is not such bliss as to make
special efforts necessary to acquire it. There is no
cause to be afraid of much learning, or, rather, of
much teaching. The difficulty under which we
labor is rather that there are subjects which cannot
be taught, and yet do form an essential part of the
equipment of a Jewish minister.

But first let me say a few words about the general
religious tendency this Seminary will follow. I am
not unaware that this is a very delicate point, and
prudence would dictate silence or evasion. But life
would hardly be worth living without occasional
blundering, "the only relief from dull correctness."
Besides, if there be in American history one fact more
clearly proved than any other it is that "know-nothing-
ism" was an absolute and miserable failure. I must
not fall into the same error. And thus, sincerely
asking forgiveness of all my dearest friends and
dearest enemies with whom it may be my misfor-
tune to differ, I declare, in all humility, but most
emphatically, that I do know something. And this
is that the religion in which the Jewish ministry
should be trained must be specifically and purely
Jewish, without any alloy or adulteration. Judaism
must stand or fall by that which distinguishes it


from other religions as well as by that which it has
in common with them. Judaism is not a religion
which does not oppose itself to anything in par-
ticular. Judaism is opposed to any number of things,
and says distinctly "thou shalt not." It permeates
the whole of your life. It demands control over all
your actions, and interferes even with your menu.
It sanctifies the seasons, and regulates your history,
both in the past and in the future. Above all, it
teaches that disobedience is the strength of sin. It
insists upon the observance both of the spirit and of
the letter; spirit without letter belongs to the species
known to the mystics as "nude souls" pS^tD^y pfiOBtt
wandering about in the universe without balance and
without consistency, the play of all possible currents
and changes in the atmosphere. In a word, Judaism
is absolutely incompatible with the abandonment of
the Torah. Nay, the very prophet or seer must bring
his imprimatur from the Torah. The assertion that
the destruction of the Law is its fulfillment is a mere
paradox, and recalls strongly the doctrines of Sir
Boyle Roche, "the inimitable maker of Irish bulls."
He declared emphatically that he "would give up a
part, and, if necessary, the whole of the constitution,
to preserve the remainder!"

President Abraham Lincoln, the wisest and great-
est of rulers, addressed Congress on some occasion
of great emergency with the words: "Fellow citizens,
we cannot escape history." Nor can we, my friends.
The past, with its long chain of events, with its woes
and joys, with its tragedies and romances, with its
customs and usages, and above all, with its bequest


of the Torah, the great entail of the children of
Israel, has become an integral and inalienable part
of ourselves, bone of our bone and flesh of our flesh.
We must make an end to these constant amputa-
tions if we do not wish to see the body of "Israel"
bleed to death before our very eyes. We must leave
off talking about Occidentalizing our religion as if
the Occident has ever shown the least genius for
religion or freeing the conscience by abolishing
various laws. These, and similar platitudes and stock
phrases borrowed from Christian apologetics, must
be abandoned entirely if we do not want to drift
slowly but surely into Paulinism, which entered the
world as the deadliest enemy of Judaism, pursued
it through all its course and is still finding its abettors
among us, working for their own destruction. Lord,
forgive them, for they know nothing. Those who
are entrusted with carrying out the purpose of this
institution, which, as you have seen, aims at the
perpetuation of the tenets of the Jewish religion,
both pupils and masters, must faithfully and man-
fully maintain their loyalty to the Torah. There is
no other Jewish religion but that taught by the Torah
and confirmed by history and tradition, and sunk
into the conscience of Catholic Israel.

I have just hinted at the desirability of masters
and pupils working for one common end. You must
not think that our intention is to convert this school
of learning into a drill ground where young men will
be forced into a certain groove of thinking, or,
rather, not thinking; and after being equipped with
a few devotional texts, and supplied with certain


catchwords, will be let loose upon an unsuspecting
public to proclaim their own virtues and the infal-
libility of their masters. Nothing is further from our
thoughts. I once heard a friend of mine exclaim
angrily to a pupil: "Sir, how dare you always agree
with me?" I do not even profess to agree with my-
self always, and I would consider my work, to which,
with the help of God, I am going to devote the rest
of my life, a complete failure if this institution would
not in the future produce such extremes as on the
one side a raving mystic who would denounce me
as a sober Philistine; on the other side, an advanced
critic, who would rail at me as a narrow-minded fa-
natic, while a third devotee of strict orthodoxy would
raise protest against any critical views I may enter-
tain. "We take," says Montaigne, "other men's
knowledge on trust, which is idle and superficial
learning. We must make it our own." The Rabbis
express the same thought with allusion to Ps. 1 : 2
which they explain to mean that what is first at
the initiation of man into the Law God's Torah,
becomes, after a sufficient study, man's own Torah.
Nay, God even deigns to descend to man's own level
so as not to interfere with his individuality and
powers of conception. I reproduce in paraphrase a
passage from a Midrash: "Behold now how the voice
of Sinai goes forth to all in Israel attuned to the
capacity of each; appealing to the sages according
to their wisdom; to the virile according to their
strength; to the young according to their aspiring
youthfulness, and to the children and babes according
to their innocence; aye, even to the women according

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Online LibraryS. (Solomon) SchechterSeminary addresses and other papers → online text (page 2 of 17)